Braddock restaurant owner makes ‘bullying’ comments about Pa. Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine

By April 19, 2020 22 Comments


Editor’s Note: this post contains transphobic language and content that may bother some readers.

By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor

UPDATE: This morning, Robert Portogallo, owner of Protogallo’s Peppers N’at responded to the controversy with the following written statement: “I have removed all of the Dr. Levine posts on my Facebook page and personal page.  My intent was not to upset anyone but to get a laugh out of the situation.  If people found my humor to be in poor-tasted I apologize to those individuals I am sorry if I offended anyone with these posts.”

Begin Original Story:

A Braddock restaurant owner is being criticized for Facebook posts in which he wears a wig and “impersonates” Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, a trans woman.

Robert Portogallo, the owner of Portogallo’s Peppers N’at, has a number of posts in which he dresses in a blonde wig and pretends to be Dr. Rachel Levine. One includes side-by-side photos of Portogallo and Dr. Levine. Over one of the posts, Portogallo marks his status as “feeling amused.” Others are videos of Portagallo wearing the wig and dancing around his store. The posts were made Friday on Portogallo’s personal Facebook Page which is public. As of Sunday night, the posts were still up.

Others were not even close to amused.

“I will never return to Portogallo’s because of some recent bigoted posts made by Robert Portogallo on his personal page,” wrote vocalist and artist Phat Man Dee (also known as Mandy Kivowitz) “As a musician, I know how important it is to accept and celebrate people for who they are, and not insist they change to fit my limited understanding of the world. I am sorry the owner doesn’t feel the same way. I will absolutely not be returning until he makes a public apology to Dr. Levine and the trans community.”

Braddock resident and educator Janet Wilson Carter wrote: “Poor form…poor taste. And this is not the first time this person has made highly offensive and even, racially charged comments. I, for one, will never spend a dime in this ‘establishment’ and I certainly wouldn’t recommend any of my friends, acquaintances, or family members spend their money there, either. Braddock is a lovely town, but all it takes is one rotten apple to halt positive movement.”

The Current also reached out to Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who not only works directly with Dr. Levine, but is the former mayor of Braddock.

“I have the daily honor and privilege of serving with Dr. Levine. We are lucky to have her in our service. Her actions have undoubtedly saved many lives in PA.,” Fetterman wrote. “Mocking a person’s self-identity is deeply harmful and should have no place in a civil society.”

Jerry Dickinson, a candidate for the 18th Congressional District, released the following statement: “Dr. Levine’s leadership and guidance throughout this crisis has been a pivotal component of the state’s response to this pandemic and has likely saved the lives of many Pennsylvanians. We are fortunate to have her as our Secretary of Health at a time when people are looking for leadership, honest information, and compassion.

“Robert Portogallo’s online bullying of Dr. Rachel Levine is disgraceful. This behavior is unacceptable and must not be tolerated. It’s really important that we be careful in the language we use lest it lead to profiling of individuals associated with the crisis. This is just something we need all to avoid. As a community, we must denounce transphobia and always strive to be stronger than hate.”

Under the posts, dozens of people laughed at Portagallo’s posts and crucified anyone who tried to point out why the posts were wrong. Many intentionally used the wrong pronoun when referring to Dr. Levine. For his part, Portogallo continued to claim his comments were jokes and didn’t especially care who took issue with it. The Current attempted to reach out to Portogallo via his Facebook page late Sunday night. He repeatedly told those who took issue with his posts  to “chill out”

Portogallo sent the following statement to the Pittsburgh Current Monday Morning: “I have removed all of the Dr. Levine posts on my Facebook page and personal page.  My intent was not to upset anyone but to get a laugh out of the situation.  If people found my humor to be in poor-tasted I apologize to those individuals I am sorry if I offended anyone with these posts.”


Portogallo also didn’t seem to care about the effect his posts could have on his business, despite advice from a fellow small business owner.

Facebook user Ephie Flowers wrote: “Mess with Dr. Levine, mess with me! If the owner thinks Covid has negatively affected his business, he’s gonna love knowing that he further drove it into the ground with hatred and ignorance.”

However, according to another of Portogallo’s post, he apparently doesn’t care. We will update this story as more information becomes available.



  • Shari Shumovich says:

    I just had a 2 day fight with a class mate because he was making fun of her. Showing her on a bike as a man then a recent pic and tried to say it’s his “qualifications why he doesn’t like “him”. I’m like Mark we are not that stupid. One of his friends actually said we should send him a case of dildos. It was hard to fight almost alone. There were a couple others upset with his comments. He said he can say what he wants about him whenever he wants. Doesn’t matter what she’s doing for our city. I think in today’s age that this is even an issue while trying to get thru a Pandemic is CRAZY! These people need to grow up. These family men are in their 50s saying this horrible stuff while their daughters are in pictures with them and all I can think of is this idiot is raising her. We just don’t need more disrespectful men out there!

    • RSK says:

      Not an idiot, though maybe crass. Researcher who are GLBT released an expansive study that there is no gay gene(s) finding GLBT is primarily a risky behavioral choice with very limited predispositions (is, not born that way). So, no “special rights” are deserved, or special attention, and only normal protections against violence and REAL discrimination over BASIC needs, not the faux definition of public accommodations being thrown about recently that interferes with REAL constitutional and inalienable rights.

  • Bonnie Humphrey says:

    Welcome to the 21st century. Maybe now he realizes that juvenile bullying is not a good look for a 50+ year old. Bye!

  • Brian says:

    Wow people get upset over nothing. So lame. I’ll go there to support him.

  • John says:

    People need to lighten up. Get over it.

  • Bullinging is bullying. No matter whether it’s because of race age color gender or political beliefs. Some people learn theessons of life the hard way. Actions always, always have consequences. The pa demic will not do his business in but his mouth and his poor choices did.

    • RSK says:

      Bullying that is violence deserves protection from the latter. Primarily other types are where people need to stand up for themselves. Short people, tall people, all have to learn the benefits of thick skin and who they are. However, those making CHOICES over who they are will and maybe should have a bit more trouble when those choices run opposite to common sense,etc. see GLBT study post above.

  • Jeff says:

    Who cares get some thicker skin

  • Georgina Rondinelli says:

    I agree what Robert Portogallo has done is bullying, stupid, insulting all of the above. I put him on unfollow on my FB along time ago because I didn’t like seeing what he posted.
    But what I don’t like and don’t agree with is seeing people on FB confronting the musicians who play there. One post told a musician he should come out and make a statement and condemn what Robert said and not play there anymore
    or they would tell people not to go
    see them play no matter where they were playing.
    So now the blame also goes to people
    Who work there?
    This is a musicians income, and it’s
    not easy getting jobs and making a
    Living playing music.
    And the musicians have nothing to do with what the owner of the club puts on his personal FB page.
    Robert Portogallo apologized and
    I have always liked going to his establishment. And I like that he has live music almost every night of the week. I will continue to go there and support the musicians that play there.
    And that dose not mean I agree with him.

  • Dave says:

    I’m on his side! Have a sense of humor! Is there any physical damage done? No. Someone got butthurt over a comment! Grow the hell up and get over it cuz I’m sure that no flipping tranny ever said anything bad about a straight & normal person! NOT! And I’m not going to celebrate someone’s choice to have their kibbles & bit and to eat them too, fucking greedy! And no I’m not jealous either!

  • Kathi anderson says:

    As soon as you put the word “if” in an apology, you pretty much negate it. You can say “I’m sorry I did or said blah, blah, blah” or you can say “I’m sorry I hurt you or offended you” but by saying “if”, you imply that maybe you don’t believe you hurt them or maybe they’re not really hurt, or they don’t really deserve to be apologized to.

  • Alexis Myers says:

    Aren’t we supposed to be adults? How about we start acting that way

  • Anonymous says:

    Sticks and stones. Grow the hell up. So don’t go to his place. That’s why we are the USA. Freedom to choose.!+

  • Denis says:

    I know him, he is a wanker.

  • Russell Womack says:

    This isnt real journalism. This is the pettiest of tattle tale tabloid.

  • SanityClaus says:

    IT is not a man or a woman because IT is not a natural person. IT is a pharmaceutical PRODUCT.
    IT has no natural rights including the right of CIVILIAN AUTHORITY.
    Only natural persons have natural rights. It has no AUTHORITY to subvert and overthrow our civilian government. It has no natural right
    of public service in a civilian government because it has NO AUTHORITY.

  • LaRock says:

    Only a liberal would worship a mentally deranged man who thinks he is a woman.

  • Anonymous says:


  • Sara Horvath says:

    I thought it was hilarious! I don’t trust anything coming from a mentally ill man who dresses up as a woman (even though he just looks like a man in women’s clothes) even if he is a doctor. And I refuse to refer to him with female pronouns. If you have a penis and a y chromosome, then you’re a male. Nothing can change that. A doctor especially should know that. His real name is Dr Richard Levine and that’s how I’ll always refer to him. He needs psychiatric help.

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